New Vestas turbine heralds the future

Although Vestas' CTO acknowledges that the manufacturers' new turbine platform can be difficult to explain, he says the potential is huge. However the impacts will not be immediately visible on the bottom line.
Photo: Vestas
Photo: Vestas

The soundtrack to the introduction of Vestas' new turbine platform pays homage to classic sci-fi films while a voiceover rings out "the experience of the past, thinking of today, the solutions of tomorrow," and "connecting certainty with innovation."

These slogans reflect Vestas' balancing act in pitching a new, modular platform – which will eventually replace existing models – as both ground breaking and yet a seamless transition from existing turbines so as not to scare customers away when they hit the shelves next year.

Therefore, the turbine manufacturer has taken pains to elaborate on its history, including the success of the now 100 GW sold turbines as well as emphasizing the company's 40-year track record during Thursday's presentation in Copenhagen.

Tough to explain

Despite the efforts of CEO Anders Runevad and CTO Anders Vedel to weave an elaborate story around the new platform, not everyone came on board immediately. It is difficult to grasp the significance of the new platform, said one participant.

"I don't think that it is difficult to understand or explain the significance, but that could be because we have been working with this for a long time, because I acknowledge that it is a little difficult," said Vedel after the presentation, where he added an extra slide breaking down the concept.

The new concept centers on using fewer, more standardized components – such as the main bearings, gearboxes, generators, converters and transformers – across a range of turbines.

"They can be combined in many different ways depending on what is needed in the turbine. Therefore, you can use capacity in the components far better," said the CTO.

The platform's first two turbines are V150-5.2 and V162-5.6. CEO Anders Runevad did not give specific figures on a future size but acknowledged that there is theoretically no upper limit to the scale of turbines.

"From a technical point of view I don’t see limitations on size of turbines and rating. It's much more of a business case. Can you get a return on investment in much bigger turbines? I mean, theoretically of course, somewhere in the future that path will slow down, but currently actually we don't see that," said the executive according to Bloomberg.

Smaller investments

Business wise, the market has always imposed limits. The existing platform also allows for turbines to be  tailored to particular conditions. However if the market consists of four cooled turbines, there are limits to how many investment dollars are worth injecting in tailored turbines. While this possibility has not completely disappeared with modular turbines, it is made smaller.

"Our ability to configure the turbine correctly to hit the target is significantly better today than it was yesterday," says Vedel.

"It still requires that we have variation within it, which depends on the size, volume and investment. Things still need to align. However, the point is that the size of this investment will be significantly smaller."

With the new platform, not only will the market become larger but the difference between costs and earnings will widen as well.

Potential everywhere

Vestas has reportedly been working toward modular turbines for many years. The concept together with the standardization it demands are a timely response to the wind industry's growing maturity and the accompanying price squeeze. There is a savings potential across the board, says the executive.

"I see potential in production both for us and our supplier chain due to volumes and uniformity. I see this in the installation, where in principle the same turbine is always set up. I see that in the service business, where our fitters do not have to update half the manual every time a new turbine is launched," says Vedel, without putting specific figures on the savings potential.

"This is a question we are also asking ourselves. On the back of collaboration with other types of entrepreneurs who have standardized their products over many years, we have defined some requirements and expectations which we have to achieve. However, this is not something that will arrive tomorrow. But the potential is huge."

Long execution process

The next question is when the potential will be unleashed.

The first prototype will be installed after the summer, while the two turbines will enter series production before the end of next year. However, this means that the last turbine from the existing platforms will be sold around 2021. Vedel says that the new approach will demand a brand new culture in the company.

"Now we are on debut day, and internally in Vestas nothing is completely clarified yet. But the final execution will not be fully complete until the change seeps down through our entire value chain and our suppliers also understand this at the bottom and begin to organize their production and approach in accordance with it," says the CTO with a smile, before offering an estimate of when this will happen.

"In 40 years."

English Edit: Lena Rutkowski

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